Ensuring that all students are seated in school daily – a basic precursor to learning – is not as simple as it seems.
That's why the California Department of Education confers a prestigious honor on school districts that model effective attendance-improvement strategies.
Among this year's honorees is Jurupa Unified's attendance program, named a 2016-17 Model Student Attendance Review Board (SARB). A SARB is a panel, composed of school and community leaders, that mobilizes resources to help at-risk students address attendance issues, stay in school and graduate ready for college and careers.
JUSD also earned a Model SARB distinction in 2014-15; districts may be considered for the honor every other year. The recognition depends in large part on a program's innovation, positive approaches to evoking change, and results delivered.
"It's a very distinct honor," said Ms. Ilsa Garza-Gonzalez, the district's director of Administrative Services. "In 2014, there were only 11 school districts in California recognized as a Model SARB. This year, there were three times as many applicants as before, and we were one of two districts in Riverside County (along with Corona-Norco) that were recognized in two consecutive rotations."
The 2017 Model SARB recognition ceremony will highlight 27 programs statewide on Wednesday, April 19, in Tahoe City.
In choosing the honorees, the state weighs district programs in six areas involving metrics such as rates of chronic absenteeism – defined as missing at least 10 percent of days enrolled; graduation rates; dropout rates; demographics and population served; and prevention, intervention and leadership strategies and outcomes.
At JUSD, a few highlights include:
- Chronic absenteeism rates have decreased for all Jurupa students in the past four years, from 7.94 percent to 7.30 percent.
- The graduation rate has increased for all JUSD students by 11.5 percentage points in the past six years; today, JUSD's 89.2 percent graduation rate exceeds that of both the state (81.5 percent) and county (81.5 percent).
- The dropout rate has decreased for all Jurupa students by 9.9 percentage points, the third largest dip in Riverside County. JUSD's dropout rate is now 6.5 percent, below the state (11.3 percent) and county (8.2 percent) rates.
The district's truancy, suspension and expulsion rates likewise have fallen in recent years. Ms. Sandra Amatriain, the JUSD coordinator of Child Welfare and Attendance, lauded the teamwork behind such achievements.
Jurupa Unified has enlisted a range of partners, including the district's own Parent Involvement and Community Outreach Department, the Riverside County District Attorney's Office, and myriad mental and behavioral health professionals to counsel families and help them address the underlying causes of student absenteeism.
"JUSD is able to apply for Model SARB due to the collective efforts of school sites, district office departments, teachers, students, guardians/parents, counselors, guidance coordinators, site and district administrators, Youth Accountability TEAM, SRO school officers and community partners," Ms. Amatriain said.
Likewise, comprehensive innovation has played a key role in the SARB's success. For example:
- The JUSD technology department generates regular reports that help campus and district leaders keep tabs on every student's attendance – and help those who fall behind.
- Thanks to a focus on personal support at Nueva Vista High School, the campus earned recognition as a 2016 Model Continuation High School from the state Department of Education.
- Decreased dropout rates flow from comprehensive long-term efforts, including an award-winning program for at-risk ninth-graders; online classes for some middle- and high-schoolers; intervention programs focused on graduation at middle- and high-school levels; spread of the AVID college-prep program to all elementary schools; and the new Pacific Avenue Academy of Music, which uses neuroscience to harmonize music with academics.
- Decreased suspension rates likewise trace to various programs, including a Youth Court that allows student offenses to be adjudicated by their peers; a districtwide push to steep campus culture in high expectations and positive reinforcement; ongoing staff development in teaching social skills, and more.
- A monthly half-day Saturday school enrichment program, which has served 7,000 students this school year across all 22 district sites, helps make up missed school days. The curriculum features speakers, engaging activities, and often, timely lessons in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.
- District officials help address the root causes of absenteeism through the Department of Parental Involvement and Community Outreach, which assists families with support and referrals for counseling, mental health services, homelessness, health insurance, clothing assistance, and much more.
"It's all interwoven," Ms. Amatriain said of the mix of resources the district has built, leveraged and refined. "It's involved, but it's something I'm proud we are able to do. I'm proud of all the people we work with to help students."
Ms. Garza-Gonzalez gave credit to Ms. Amatriain, as well. "She is invested in this community, knows this community, and has heart for the community. She does home visits and serves as a bridge between school and home and getting a student back on track for attendance and offering any resources the family may need."
As for the Model SARB achievement, Ms. Garza-Gonzalez said, "It was more difficult the second time around. You're looking to improve on something that was already recognized as a model for other districts. It's a nice feeling to know we were able to do that – improve on what already was a model."